Making chocolate or guns… 3D printing is going to change everything

* The latest in our series with influential people in digital continues with Abe Reichental, one of the biggest mavens in the 3D printing industry

You hold strong opinions on consumer 3D printing — can you outline these?

It is all about democratisation and that means the passionate pursuit of simplicity, affordability, utility and sustainability. It is also about getting the consumer to experience creativity by taking their virtual creations and making them actual. And it is about a paradigm shift from today’s canvas environment where few exceptional 3D artists can paint a beautiful painting on a blank canvas to colouring book simplicity where millions can paint unique and amazing paintings.

As the oldest and arguably the biggest 3D printing company in the world, you have come a long way?

We were the first to market a 3D printer in 1986, the year the internet mail access protocol was established. Along the journey we transformed the way entire industries design, validate and manufacture new products and revolutionised healthcare treatments with personalised medical devices such as in-ear hearing aids, dental restorations and orthotics.

When did consumer 3D printing first materialize within 3D Systems’ corporate strategy?

Over the last couple of years it became apparent to us that 3D printing can be made consumer-friendly and affordable. We reasoned that infinite cloud computing, mobile devices, sensors and photogrammetry, content creation gamification and crowd sourcing could unleash everyone’s creativity to create and make in 3D. Recognising this opportunity, we began to dismantle the bewildering complexity that existed in the chasm between 3D content creation and printing, and launched – a meeting place and marketplace for all things 3D.

Can you give some insight into this in terms of technology development and advancement, customer service and the democratisation of 3D Printing?

Our strategy is to build the most compelling and attractive 3D content-to-print global platform for the benefit of manufacturers and consumers. Concurrently, we are increasing R&D spending and accelerating the pace of innovation. This is core to our customer commitment, central to our culture and true to our heritage.

Do you think you fight or fuel the current hype around 3D Printing? 

Neither and both. Our role is to lead and shape the 3D printing revolution. As the inventor, pioneer and leader, we have a responsibility to inform, educate, and expand adoption. As we journey the road of successful democratisation, it becomes increasingly more difficult to disguise our passion and excitement for what we do, and that can be contagious.

What would you say is the strongest market for 3D printing?

Our bread is buttered every day by our expanding direct manufacturing success that spans from transportation to personalized medical devices. In fact, since 2010 roughly 50% of all the 3D printers we sold went into manufacturing applications that include airplane parts, jewellery, hearing aids and durable consumer goods. Our fastest growing vertical is healthcare solutions, which for the first nine months of this year is up some 82% over last year to more than $36 million.

What is your take on the ‘3D print a gun’ stories that were doing the rounds? 

I believe that as 3D printing suppliers, we have a collective responsibility to deliver safe products, services and solutions that are designed for useful and lawful use. We also have a responsibility to educate the public and law enforcement agencies about the potential of illegal uses. However, we are not law enforcement agencies and we cannot prevent illegal uses any more than gun or car companies can.

In terms of 3D printing applications, do you have a favourite?

My passion is chocolate printing and I am bound and determined to develop a chocolate 3D printer of the real variety, that prints as beautifully as our plastic printers do, but tastes much better.

What is your vision for the next 5 years for 3D printing?

Over the next five years I believe that 3D printing will emerge as a major force of change in how we communicate, create, make, educate, cure and manufacture.

Steve Masters (10 Posts)

I started professional life as a magazine journalist, working on music magazines and women's titles before becoming a web editor in 1997 and have worked purely in online publishing since 1998. I am now the Services Director at search marketing agency Vertical Leap.